The service at the seafood restaurant on Yas Island is impressive but the overall dining experience is disappointing.
Left wanting more at Nautilus
Nautilus, in keeping with much of Abu Dhabi's Yas Hotel, has a sleek, ultra-modern feel to it. The interior of the restaurant is for the most part white, with the lighting lending a faint blue hue. To my eyes, this all felt rather sterile, but I'm sure someone else would revel in its clean minimalism. This didn't matter though, as we were seated at a table on the peaceful outdoor terrace, which offered panoramic views of the marina. And while the decor might be questionable , the service certainly wasn't. We were extremely well looked after by the astute, switched-on staff.
As the name suggests, Nautilus is a seafood restaurant, so for my starter I opted for the "tuna tasting". This delicate dish was strewn with edible flowers and saw the tuna presented in three different ways: sashimi style, diced and threaded with herbs as tartar, and briefly seared. Our waitress explained that the dish should be eaten "from left to right". When I asked her why, she explained that the taste of the seared tuna would overpower everything else. I don't particularly like this concept, but I do concede that it's fair enough for a chef to make a request like this, if there is real reasoning behind it. In this instance, I found it unnecessary. Although the tartar was nice and zingy, the other options were too meekly flavoured to have an impact.
My friend ordered the milk-infused cod and we were both quite surprised when the dish was served cold. She wasn't hugely enamoured with the cod, finding the idea of chilled cooked fish a strange one, I think, but she happily devoured the wilted spinach on the side.
So far my criticisms and observations have come down to subjective (and of course questionable) matters of taste. The monkfish that I received for my main course, however, was decidedly overcooked. I find it hugely disappointing that a restaurant that specialises in seafood can serve up such tough, dry fish. A lightly curried foam and a purée accompanying it were both flavourful and nicely seasoned, but this didn't make up for the fact that the centrepiece of the dish was far from right.
My friend selected king prawns from a list of grill options, and then chose a side dish and a sauce to go with them. The grilled prawns were exactly as they should be: large, plump and succulent. The smoky tomato sauce (her chosen condiment) was also great. We were both bewildered by the size of the portion, though. To accompany six or seven large prawns, she was presented with a receptacle that was barely bigger than a thimble, the contents of which was polished off two prawns in. This just seemed a bit absurd; as if no one in the kitchen had considered that a customer might like to enjoy a little bit of tomato sauce with each of their prawns. Once again, credit must go to an eagle-eyed waitress, who brought over a little pot of the Heinz variety without even being asked.
Dessert continued along a similar line. Tarte tatin was elegantly presented, but the tarte itself was cold and became colder still as you reached the centre. It tasted as though it had been taken from the fridge and served immediately without being given time to reach an ambient temperature. The very thin pastry base was undercooked and had become sodden under the layers of caramel apples. In the end, it didn't matter that the golden halo of spun sugar perched on top of the dessert looked impressive because the main element of the dish was let down by simple mistakes. This could be applied as a metaphor for a good restaurant, and is something that Nautilus might do well to consider: no matter how great the fanfare in the presentation, the basics need to be executed properly.
Meal for two, including service, Dh795. Nautilus, The Yas Hotel, Yas Marina. Reservations 02 656 0600. Reviews are conducted anonymously and meals are paid for by The National.